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August 13, 2017

U.S. Distance Running Excellence is Here to Stay

I thought U.S. middle and long distance running had reached a pinnacle last summer when American athletes won a record seven medals in events from 800 meters to the marathon at the 2016 Olympics.

For years, American distance running was labeled as “on the rise.” Stars on the domestic level often struggled to compete for medals on the global stage. Titles like “top non-African” were seen as consolation prizes for those unable to break through the stranglehold East Africans held in many events.

But in Rio, long suffering fans got their pay-off with a remarkable string of accomplishments even the most optimistic observers would have never predicted.

But many, including yours truly, tried to be realistic in thinking that type of medal haul would never again be matched. The stars aligned in the exact perfect way in Rio, and it was unrealistic to think so many runners could perfectly peak for a championship quite like that again.

Boy, was I wrong. The U.S. middle and long distance squad matched the Rio mark of seven medals at the 2017 World Championships with one gold medal, two silvers, and four bronzes.

I’ve written about several of the performances throughout the past week, including the remarkable Emma Coburn/Courtney Frerichs 1-2 finish, Jenny Simpson’s tactically brilliant silver, and Evan Jager’s front-running bronze.

And there’s reason to believe this level of success is sustainable.

Four of the medalists were veterans who repeated podium performances from Rio — Jenny Simpson in the 1500 meters, Evan Jager and Emma Coburn in the steeplechase, and Paul Chelimo in the 5000 meters. With Simpson the oldest of the four at 30 years of age, all are in the primes of their careers and could maintain their peaks through Tokyo 2020, if not longer.

Three were first-time global championship medalists — Ajee Wilson in the 800 meters, Courtney Frerichs in the steeplechase, and Amy Cragg in the marathon. At 23 and 24 years of age, respectively, look for Wilson and Frerichs to be contending for medals at many more global championships.

 

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